Heartburn in Pregnancy – Symptoms and Prevention

Heartburn is painfully (excuse the pun!) common in pregnancy, with as many as 80% of mothers-to-be feeling the burn.  It may start in the first trimester but is especially prevalent towards the end of pregnancies.  On the bright side, in almost all cases, it goes away once your baby is born.

What are the symptoms?

If you feel like you’re gargling molten lava or that a fire-breathing dragon is your kindred spirit, you are probably suffering from heartburn.

Heartburn sufferers typically feel a burning sensation in their chest behind the breastbone, but you may feel a burn anywhere from your lower spine all the way up  to your throat and mouth.  Other symptoms include a sour taste in your mouth, nausea or a lack of appetite.

What causes heartburn in pregnancy?

The same hormones that make you super-flexible in your ante-natal yoga class are the ones responsible for relaxing the valve at the top of your stomach (sphincter) allowing acid to flow up into your esophagus.  Pregnancy hormones also slow down digestion making heartburn more likely.

In later pregnancy, particularly from week 30, as your baby grows bigger, your uterus cramps the other abdominal organs, pushing your intestines and stomach upwards exacerbating the situation.

What can you do to stop heartburn?

  • Work out your triggers
    Experts recommend avoiding fatty food, caffeine, fizzy drinks and chocolate but heartburn sufferers have different triggers so be mindful of what you are eating to figure out which foods make your symptoms worse.
    Drinking milk with honey and eating ginger and/or garlic relieve symptoms for some people so they may be worth trying.
  • Eat smaller meals more frequently
    Try grazing your way through the day, or eat six smaller meals rather than your usual three.  An overstuffed stomach contributes to heartburn and eating smaller meals also helps avoid uncomfortable bloating towards the end of your pregnancy.
  • Eat slowly and chew, chew, chew
    Take time with your meals and chew each mouthful carefully.  Chewing produces saliva which neutralises and washes away acid in your stomach.  Chewing gum after and between meals can also help.
  • Avoid eating 3 hours before bedtime and don’t lie down or bend over after eating
    This allows you to fully digest your food before you lie down and prevents acid washing up into your esophagus.
  • Prop up your bed head
    Put a brick or some books under your bed head to angle your bed so your feet are lower than your head.  This prevents your stomach acid flowing upwards while you sleep.  Note: You may find yourself doing this to your newborn’s crib in a few months if they suffer from reflux.

What about medications for heartburn?

Over-the-counter antacids work by neutralising the stomach acids which are causing you pain.  Different antacids contain different chemicals and come in chewable, liquid and tablet formats.  Antacids containing calcium and magnesium are considered the safest to take during pregnancy.  Avoid those containing aluminium, sodium bicarbonate or aspirin.

Antacids can interfere with iron absorption so if you are taking iron supplements, make sure you take them at different times.

Before taking any medication, check with a medical professional for the latest safety guidelines and research or call mothersafe.  If your symptoms are causing you serious discomfort or happening more than three times a week, your doctor may prescribe stronger medication.

And finally…will my baby be born hairy?

There are countless old wives’ tales surrounding pregnancy, and if you have been sharing your discomfort around heartburn, you may have been told that women who experience heartburn during pregnancy give birth to babies with full heads of hair.

Incredibly, researchers at Johns Hopkins Medical Institution in Baltimore found that there was a positive correlation between the severity of heartburn experienced by the mother and the volume of hair on the newborn baby.  So, if you have experienced terrible heartburn in your pregnancy you can expect a baby with a glorious mop of hair!

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